Mojo - December 2007

Campaign Reporting Nose-dives During the Holidays; Meanwhile, Jeffrey Lord Wishes Dems a Merry Christmas

| Thu Dec. 6, 2007 5:40 PM EST

By this point in the already-interminable '08 election season, the temptations of the holidays are beginning to seduce even devoted political junkies away from Iowa, New Hampshire, and their YouTube satellites. Campaign reporters—being only human—are also a little distracted by holiday cheer. Witness the New York Times' post-Thanksgiving report on the candidates' eating habits (Barack Obama looks as though someone had to Photoshop a corndog into his hand; Rudy Giuliani will steal your food), or yesterday's giddy recounting of the brimming happiness of Dennis Kucinich. But Tuesday's piece in the American Spectator almost defies explanation. In a long essay lamenting the nastiness of politics, writer and former Reagan political director Jeffrey Lord (aka He-For-Whom-YouTube-Is-Too-Liberal), proclaims that his Christian faith obligates him to say something nice about each of the Democratic candidates. In "Merry Christmas to the Opposition," he praises Hillary Clinton for being "a great Mom" and commends John Edwards for inspiring people "to just keep their heads down and stay on their respective tasks in life."

Heartwarming, no? And incredibly patronizing. Despite going on for paragraphs about how
conversations with liberals inevitably result in "furious personal assaults that usually end with the liberal in question abruptly walking away or refusing to discuss the issue," he makes no effort to show respect for any of the candidates' actual work, ideas, or positions. No, he's not obligated to do this—maybe he doesn't respect those positions. But to accuse all liberals of refusing to engage their conservative counterparts on substantive issues and then refuse to do so oneself, citing the obligations that Christmas confers on us to rise above the fray, is so smug it's almost offensive. Like the Republicans for whom the filibuster is an affront to the civility of Congress only when the Democrats are using it, Mr. Lord needs to tone down the self-satisfaction and raise the level of dialogue to where he thinks it should be.

—Casey Miner

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Examining Mike Huckabee's Record on Immigration: Compassion Replaced by Intolerance

| Thu Dec. 6, 2007 3:21 PM EST

huckabee-hands.jpg In honor of Mike Huckabee's newly released "Secure America Plan" to fight illegal immigration, which I will summarize below, I want to point out some past quotes from the former Arkansas Governor. Huckabee used to have a relatively compassionate view of immigration, which he seems to have abandoned in favor of the Republican party line.

- In 2005, Huckabee was faced with a bill that would deny state benefits to illegal immigrants. He opposed it. "[Illegal immigrants] pay sales taxes on their groceries. They pay fuel taxes. If they're using a fake Social Security number, they're paying Social Security taxes and will never receive any benefit," said Huckabee. Speaking of the bills primary backers, Huckabee said, "It would be closer to the truth to say [illegal immigrants are] subsidizing Joe McCutchen and Jim Holt more than the other way around." Huckabee added a line that would warm any liberal's heart. "Something that's not worth sharing is not worth celebrating," Huckabee said. "This is the kind of country that opens its doors. This bill expresses an un-American attitude."

- In the spring of 2007, Huckabee told Real Clear Politics, "When people say, 'They're taking our jobs'—I used to hear that as Governor—and I started asking this question, 'Can you name me any person, give me their name, who can't get a job plucking a chicken or picking a tomato or tarring a roof that would like to do that work?'... And I'd hear 'Well, it's a lot of people,' and I said, 'No, no, don't tell me it's a lot of people... Tell me their names. Take a few hours. Go get them. Give me their names.' I never, ever, had a person who could come up with the name of a person... so much of it was more about emotion than it was about the reality." In that interview Huckabee did support a fence, and opposed amnesty.

- Later in the spring of 2007, Huckabee said, "I just don't think it's realistic to say this weekend we're going to round up 12 to 20 million young people and their children and we're going to put them across the border and they're never going to come back."

- At a recent CNN debate, Huckabee defended his decision as mayor to give public university scholarships to the sons and daughters of illegal immigrants. He said, "We're not going to punish a child because the parent committed a crime. That's not what we typically do in this country." Later he added, "We're a better country than that."

Let's contrast all this to Huckabee's current immigration plan:

Iowans Rail Against Illegal Immigrants They Rarely See

| Thu Dec. 6, 2007 2:58 PM EST

The LA Times has an article highlighting something that I noticed when I was on the campaign trail. Iowans hate illegal immigration, even though there are few, if any, illegal immigrants in their towns. In every Republican campaign event I attended, the candidate spoke at length about stopping illegal immigration, drawing some of the strongest applause of the day. Afterwards, Republican voters would speak at length about how the border needs to be enforced and about how unfair it is that immigrants use public services without paying taxes. (Which is wrong.) They would even talk about supporting Tom Tancredo.

And the Democratic voters weren't that much different. At the Democratic events, the candidates would avoid immigration for the entirety of their speeches and then the first question would always be, "What do you plan on doing about illegal immigration?"

This, despite the fact that Iowa is 97 percent white. The LA Times article collects all sorts of anti-immigrant quotes—"I'm dead set on this: You speak English or you get the heck out of here"—from citizens of 5,000-person town in which fewer than 50 were born outside the U.S.

It's almost like there is an inverse proportion between how often you see or interact with illegal immigrants in your community and how much you oppose their presence in the country.

Romney to Atheists: Drop Dead

| Thu Dec. 6, 2007 1:25 PM EST

Drop dead? Well, not really. But close. In his much-hyped speech today, Mitt Romney offered this short observation to Americans eager to know his thoughts about theology and politics:

Freedom requires religion.

That's an intriguing notion. Does that mean those who are not religious cannot be free? Are atheists or agnostics not truly free people? Is belief in a deity a prerequisite for embracing and living in freedom? Seems as if Romney does not fully appreciate an idea he pushed in his speech: tolerance.

Elsewhere in the speech, there was a line that took a fair bit of chutzpah to utter:

Americans tire of those who would jettison their beliefs, even to gain the world.

Romney was, of course, talking about spiritual beliefs. He wasn't talking about his beliefs regarding abortion, gay rights, stem cell research, or gun control--beliefs he has jettisoned for the 2008 campaign. During the address, Romney remarked, "Americans do not respect believers of convenience." The coming election might put that proposition to the test.

Internet Sales Taxes: Just in Time for Christmas?

| Thu Dec. 6, 2007 12:45 PM EST

A U.S. House committee today is hearing the pros and cons of a bill that would finally allow states to collect sales taxes on stuff bought online. The states desperately need the money. Sales taxes account for a third of all state revenue, and the bulk of it goes towards public education, but that tax base is eroding thanks to a proliferation of online sales outlets. One study estimates that by 2008, the states will be losing $33 billion in revenue on "remote" sales, $18 billion of which comes from virtual stores.

Internet retailers have successfully batted down such proposals in the past, arguing that they would infringe on interstate commerce. But the states have gotten smarter and in recent years many have banded together to create uniform tax codes and a voluntary agreement to tax these companies, hoping to get around the constitutional issues. The bill, introduced by Massachusetts congressman William Delahunt, would let those states bound by the agreement tax remote companies.

At the hearing today, the bill got support from retailer J.C. Penny, which has to collect sales taxes on its Internet business because it also has bricks-and-mortar stores in many states. It wants to level the playing field to make it easier to compete with companies that are solely online. Opposing the bill, though, is the Direct Marketing Association, once known as the junk-mail lobby but which now represents catalog sales companies and electronic merchants. Not surprisingly, the DMA is opposed to the legislation, and DMA rep George Isaacson insisted that state legislators have vastly overestimated how much money they're losing in sales tax revenue. He says the figure is more in the range of $145 million as opposed to the many billions claimed by the state legislators. Still, that's a nice chunk of change that could put a few new teachers in the classroom without causing too much pain to the general public. No word yet on the bill's prospects, but no doubt it will create a nice fundraising vehicle for legislators on both sides of the aisle.

Mitt Romney's Big Speech: Love all Religions (Except Islam)

| Thu Dec. 6, 2007 11:34 AM EST

mitt_romney_speaking.jpg Mitt Romney had an almost impossible task before him today in College Station, Texas: he had to emphasize America's proud tradition of religious freedom while winning voters in what has essentially become a Christian party.

"A person should not be elected because of his faith, nor should he be rejected because of his faith," said Romney, echoing John F. Kennedy's 1960 speech on his Catholic faith. "Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin."

That was essentially the message Kennedy delivered when he went before an organization of Baptist ministers and said that he would rather resign than let the Vatican dictate the decisions of the American government. "I believe in a president whose views on religion are his own private affair," Kennedy said then. "I want a chief executive whose public acts are responsible to all and obligated to none."

But Kennedy and Romney gave their speeches in drastically different environments. Kennedy was trying to reassure Democratic voters, who were and are less fervently religious than Republican voters and who are more comfortable with, as Kennedy urged, an "absolute" separation of Church and State. Moreover, there were 35 to 40 million Catholics in America at the time. Most every Protestant knew one. Many had a family member married to one.

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Red Storm Rising: Russian Fleet Resumes Regular Patrols

| Thu Dec. 6, 2007 9:18 AM EST

Dust off your old Tom Clancy novels. The Red menace has returned. Well, not really, but it's certainly giving it the old college try. Earlier this year, apparently emboldened by oil and gas profits, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the resumption of long-range flights by Russia's mothballed fleet of strategic bombers. The news today is that the Russian Navy has dispatched an 11-ship aircraft carrier group to the Mediterranean. According to Russian Defense Minister Anatoly E. Serdyukov, the move is part of an effort to restore regular Russian naval patrols to the high seas, which had fallen off after the end of the Cold War. The fleet currently in the Mediterranean includes an aircraft carrier, two anti-submarine ships, a guided missile cruiser, and refueling ships.

Banning Harry Potter Is Just SO 20th Century

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 10:15 PM EST

Now that the Harry Potter books, films, water globes, watches and tote bags are an established part of western culture, banning The Golden Compass is about to be all the rage. The film, which stars Nicole Kidman, is based on the novel, Northern Lights, the first of British author Phillip Pullman's trilogy, His Dark Materials . It tells the story of an orphaned girl who lives in a parallel universe that is threatened by a rigid dictatorship called the Magisterium.

Calling the film "atheism for kids," the Catholic League has strongly suggested that Northern Lights and the rest of the trilogy be removed from schools and libraries. Most descriptions of the film indicate that the author's stance against organized religion, and the Catholic church in particular, has been significantly diluted in the film version, but the banning has already begun. Catholic League William A. Donohue say he is aware that the film is tame by the book's standards, but he is afraid that children who see the film will want to read the novel.

Pullman, for his part, disagrees that The Golden Compass is anti-Catholic, though he acknowledges that atheism is a theme in the film. The American Library Association has issued a statement that calls on parents, teachers and librarians to resist any attempts to censor library collections.

And in a parallel universe where children are discouraged from reading books, several schools have already removed Pullman's works from the shelves.

The Golden Compass opens in theaters this Friday.

Iraqi View of Surge's "Success"

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 7:27 PM EST

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In a recent post on Last of Iraqis, one of the few Iraqi English-language blogs still up and running, blogger Mohammed offers a new perspective on what the U.S. has called success in Iraq. After a November 25th bombing near the ministry of health left his good friend's mom in critical condition, the 25-year-old dentist said he suspected the relative calm of the last couple of weeks didn't mean the insurgents were gone—just that they were pausing to regroup. He wrote, "It seems that the terrorists from all sides were just planning what to do next, they were planning how to overcome the current changes."

With another deadly blast hitting Baghdad today, Mohammed's view of recent developments seems far more accurate than the mainstream American media's. The violence has always been cyclical, and there's no reason to believe things are any different this time around.

Throughout the war, undiluted blogging from Iraqis on the ground has kept American news outlets in check. The BBC has done a roundup of these posts from civilians inside the country every couple of months since January of this year.

—Andre Sternberg

Supersize Coup - Morgan Spurlock Finds Osama?

| Wed Dec. 5, 2007 6:55 PM EST

No one can say for sure, but rumor has it that director Morgan Spurlock, of McMadness fame, has located the elusive al Qaeda leader. Read more over at The Riff.

—Casey Miner